The ties between Hitler’s Nazis and American businessmen such as Henry Ford, Averell Harriman, and Senator Prescott Bush, the father of George HW Bush, have long been cited in lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors seeking compensation for their suffering. The late Senator Prescott Bush’s German assets were seized in 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the Trading with the Enemy Act, which also carried prison penalties which Bush escaped. Historical scholarship over the last decade shows that Bush was deeply enmeshed in business which was vital to the rise of Nazi Germany, and almost certainly knew that his profits were driven by slave labor.
The January 27th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets was the last decade anniversary which most survivors expected to be able to attend.
In groundbreaking reporting, the New Hampshire Gazette said in 2003, in “Bush-Nazi Link Confirmed,” that:
“The documents from the [National] Archives…show that the Bushes and Harrimans shipped valuable U.S. assets, including gold, coal, steel and U.S. Treasury and war bonds, to their foreign clients overseas as Hitler geared up for his 1939 invasion of Poland, the event that sparked World War II.”
Previously, the families of American industrialists such as Bush have maintained that their business ties with the Third Reich were at arm’s length, and that the companies were unaware of what Hitler was doing to Jews and other “displaced persons.” The American companies were heavily involved in German business during Hitler’s rise between 1933, when Adolf Hitler consolidated dictatorial powers after the “Reichstag Fire,” through the 1939 invasion of Poland, and even after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war upon Germany by the United States. Many say that the German “economic miracle” in fact was built on the slave labor of Jews, Poles, and other “undesirables” under the Nazi regime.
But incredulous observers, such as individual Holocaust survivors who have filed many lawsuits against various American companies, one naming the Bush family in particular as a defendant, say that the very scale of the operations would preclude the American industrialists not knowing about it. The slave labor was not hidden away in furtive locations, but spread throughout all sectors of society, large and small.
Between 1939 and 1941, 1.2 million slave laborers were put into service in Germany and occupied territories. The German journal DW reported in 2005, in “Slave Laborers to Be Compensated by 2006,”
“In order to keep up production from 1939 to 1941, as more and more men were being called up for military service, German companies needed 1.2 million workers, and they came in the form of forced laborers. In all, there were about 12 million people taken from German occupied territory to serve as forced laborers during the World War II.”
The DW reports in “Final Compensation Pending for Former Nazi Forced Laborers”:
“During World War II, about 12 million people were kidnapped from their homes across Europe and beyond and forced to work for the Nazi regime in Germany. The slaves were not only put to work in camps, the most infamous of applications of forced labor, but in all areas of German industry.
Employment of foreign forced laborers was not only limited to large-scale enterprises,” said history professor Ulrich Herbert of the University of Freiburg. “It was applied throughout the whole economy; from the small farm and locksmith’s shop with just six workers, to the national railway system, the local authority districts, the big armament companies and also many private households.”
At one point fully 20% of the German workforce was slave labor from foreign countries, German Jews, and other “undesirables.” Often, the forced laborers were simply worked to death , to spare the expense of housing and feeding.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration did not seize Prescott Bush’s assets affiliated with Thyssen, the German industrial giant, until 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. This means that between 1939, when massive numbers of Jewish and Polish slave laborers were being rounded up, and 1942, when Bush had his German assets seized, Prescott Bush was fully involved in the German economy during the worst of the slave labor regime, and profiting by it.
The UK Guardian reported in 2004 that Prescott Bush’s:
“…business dealings, which continued until his company’s assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz…”
The Guardian article, “How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power,” detailed newly uncovered documents from various national security archives which fills in many blanks about the Bush family relationship with the German companies, which were indispensable to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party from its inception in the early 1930s, to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and beyond. Thyssen used huge numbers of slave laborers in its steel and munitions factories, although the Bush family, and the corporate spokesmen of other companies, such as General Motors and Ford, have denied knowing about the slave labor.
Still devastated after World War I, Germany before the rise of Hitler lacked either the resources or the funds to build an automotive industry from scratch, especially the highly complex mass production of the engines, so both Ford and GM built and licensed factories in Germany which became the backbone of the mechanized war machine, based on tanks, troop transports, and aircraft.
The Washington Post in the 1998 article “Ford and GM Scrutinized for Alleged Nazi Collaboration” reported:
“When American GIs invaded Europe in June 1944, they did so in jeeps, trucks and tanks manufactured by the Big Three motor companies in one of the largest crash militarization programs ever undertaken. It came as an unpleasant surprise to discover that the enemy was also driving trucks manufactured by Ford and Opel — a 100 percent GM-owned subsidiary — and flying Opel-built warplanes… “
Bush family patriarch Prescott Bush realized a profit of $1.5 million for the sale of his share of UBC, which was fully owned by Thyssen, which is the equivalent of $25,000,000 in today’s dollars. Thyssen owned one-third of the German steel industry and one-half of the coal business. Only with slave labor, however, could the cash-starved war industries come anywhere close to meeting their production targets.
Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum, “Living Space,” was articulated long before the 1939 invasion of Poland, and even long before Hitler. Lebensraum contained an element which justified the use of slave labor from “inferior” races, and was spoken of by German intellectuals as early as Friedrich Ratzel in 1901. Lebensraum essentially said that the German people were destined to conquer and subjugate many neighboring countries.
Prescott Bush has been a controversial figure for many years. Some historians make, and congressional committee records support, the allegation that Bush played a leading role in a plot to overthrow the elected government of FDR in order to replace it with a fascist dictatorship, run by Wall Street bankers and other industrialists. The BBC in its documentary “The White House Coup” said:
“The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression.”
According to historians, the coup was only foiled when the man approached to lead an army of 500,000 disgruntled WWI veterans, Marine Corp General and double Medal of Honor winner Smedley D. Butler, went to Congress and blew the whistle on the coup.
Marine General Smedley Butler